What's an orphanage for?
It's not something to which I, or most Americans I'd say, really give much thought. I even took a look at the one orphanage I know by name, The Home for Little Wanderers. According to the interweb it's not actually an orphanage, but more like a group home. This is the shift that has taken place in America. A place where children go without their parents is a group home. Most often they go there because the State has decided their parents are not fit to care for them, or on rare occasions they are in fact orphans, and have no extended family able or willing to care for them, so again, the State steps in. However, if you decide you can't care for your children. What happens? What should happen?
Here in Aceh (I can't speak for all of Indonesia), orphanages are called Panti Asuans. They are often, though not always, associated with Dayahs, which are Islamic boarding schools. I've been to two orphanages so far, as well as have read many reports about an program that took place at and around them, which is part of the evaluation I'm doing. I was utterly surprised when I heard that approximately 80-90% of children in the Panti have at least one parent, many have two. These children are not orphans in the classic sense, only 10% or less are. On one hand surprising given the 30 year civil war plus the tsunami. So what are children with parents doing in an orphanage? Essentially sometimes parents of children from poor families feel that they can't care for their children, in particular they can't afford to send them to school. So they send them to the Panti, thinking that at least that way they will be able to graduate from primary school, many junior high school too. However, the conditions in the Pantis aren't always better than living at home in a poor family. The education is important, but as we've all read, orphanages and group homes are rife with opportunities for abuse and neglect. And with hundreds of children and few staff, and underfunding, it's next to impossible that children will get the attention and care they need.
So what do we take away from this? That in Indonesia parents send their children away in hopes of giving them a better life, whereas in America they are taken after the neglect has occurred? Or that in Indonesia some families have more children than they can care for and give them away to (often religious) institutions, whereas in America the foster system is flawed but functioning.
The goal of the program being evaluated is to discourage families from sending children to orphanages, giving livelihood support to parents to help prevent it and hopefully bring children already in the orphanage back home, as well as to facilitate visits and environmental and hygiene education in the panti. Whether the livelihood support essentially pays families for sending their children to an orphanage has been debated, and whether giving brooms to children so they can sweep up the institution gives a false sense of improvement. But changing the cultural norm of sending children to institutions, assuming they receive better care outside of the family, and discouraging the government from funding Pantis per child, thus encouraging increased enrollment, is all part of the puzzle.
Appropriate care of children is a sensitive issue everywhere, but more importantly, the care of children is a critical issue for parents and caregivers in Pantis alike, because if nothing else, everyone involved seems to truly believe they're doing what is in the best interest of the children.